This week’s post is by Carrie Goeringer. Carrie came to the National Archives in 2000 to work in NARA’s Cartographic Branch, and since 2003, has worked as an archivist with NARA’s Motion Picture Branch. Before coming to NARA, Carrie worked for the Oklahoma Historical Society Photographic Archives for 8 years. She has a BA in Photography and MA in American History.
“We Are All Artists”
At the National Archives (NARA) Motion Picture Branch, we have many records of war and destruction. The Harmon Foundation Collection, however, emphasizes human improvement through creativity of design, thought, and experimentation. The Harmon Foundation helped fund artistic and educational endeavors for forty years, from the early 1920s through the mid 1960s.
Its founder, William E. Harmon, was a philanthropist who made his money in real estate in the 1920s. Harmon believed in photographic technology and motion picture films as ways to communicate ideas of improvement in areas of childhood recreation, health and hygiene training for children, mothers, and adults; reading and classroom instruction, religious education, art and industry, missionary pursuits, and artistic endeavors.
In 1967, the Foundation donated tens of thousands of items from their visual library-still pictures, slides, film strips and motion pictures, to NARA, along with production files and other related documentation. Nineteen series are described in NARA’s online catalog, ARC (Harmon Foundation Collection, 1922 – 1967 ARC Identifier 862 / Collection Identifier H).
Over 600 film reels, both edited films and outtakes, are included in NARA’s Harmon Foundation Collection series “Motion Picture Films on Community Life, Education, and Religious Beliefs, and the Art and Culture of Minority and Ethnic Groups, ca. 1930 – ca. 1953″ (ARC ID 94791).
The film “We Are All Artists”, (ARC Identifier 94970/Local Identifier 200-HF-232), made in 1936 and directed by Alon Bement, illustrates the improvements in early 20th century design through use of classic artistic composition theory and a movement away from the cluttered design of the late 19th century.
It shows how the old clumsy designs have given way to gracefulness and ease of operation in products re-designed for transportation, communication, office machines, and functional household items. According to the film, the Colonial Era had achieved a utility of design, but the Industrial Age brought an overly ornate and uselessness to design.
The film uses many examples of this “streamlined” approach to art and industrial design, including Manhattan’s Triborough Bridge (now the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge), a RCA Victor radio cabinet, a bottle of Carter’s Ink , an electric iron, washable wallpaper, and the streamlined train designs of Otto Kuhler. The photographer Margaret Bourke-White (pictured below) exemplified these new designs in her work. She is also featured in the film (the section with White starts at 21:16 ).
NARA’s Still Pictures Branch holds several series from the Harmon Foundation, including Picture Books Relating to Motion Picture Films, 1926 – 1053 (ARC ID 7000796), where researchers can find still photographs created during the filming of the motion pictures.
Other production stills images relating to the motion pictures that are part of NARA’s collection can be found in the series Photographs Relating to Audio Visual Programs 1920-1969 (ARC ID 6997448). These photos of Ray and Virginia Garner, a husband and wife documentary team, were taken in Africa and come from this series. The Garners made a series of films for the Harmon Foundation in the late 1930s, as part of the Africa Film Project.